Smithfield Herald

Nonprofit groups break ground on inclusion park in Smithfield

A future baseball field and playground for children with special needs is officially on its way.

On a chilly Thursday morning, residents and officials gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of the site of the Johnston County Inclusion Park, near the Community Park on Booker Dairy Road.

In an impassioned speech, Dwight Morris of Partnership to Build a Miracle said he was excited to provide the community with something so distinctive.

“We’re here to build a park that will meet the needs of all our children,” Morris said.

The park will be inclusive, which means children with special needs will be able to play with friends and siblings who do not. For example, standard swings will be placed next to swings children in wheelchairs can use.

The park will also have sandboxes raised to different levels, butterfly and wind chime gardens and semi-enclosed hideaways kids can escape to when they get overstimulated.

The ball field’s diamond will be covered with a rubber material to accommodate kids who use wheelchairs or walkers during baseball and softball games.

Cary and Raleigh in Wake County already have Miracle League fields.

Chris Key, the fundraising chairman for the Partnership, said he is grateful for the community support the project has received in Johnston. The town of Smithfield donated the land and helped Partnership to Build a Miracle get a $350,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. The county also contributed $100,000 toward the project.

Between grants, municipal funds and donations, Partnership to Build a Miracle has raised about $500,000 of the $650,000 it needs to build the park, Key said.

He said the group is focusing on getting donations of $2,500 and $5,000. Bricks to commemorate a loved one can be purchased for $100.

The total cost of the park and the ball field is about $1.2 million, he said.

“Our county cares,” Key said. “Everyone here gives until it hurts.”

Construction is slated to begin in February, and the fields should be open to the public by summer 2015. Key said the group didn’t want to wait to celebrate.

Partnership to Build a Miracle includes two Johnston nonprofits: the Partnership for Children and the Miracle League. The park is a project of Partnership for Children, and the ball field is a project of the Miracle League.

The two organizations combined their resources to raise money for the projects. After the playground and field are built, each group will be responsible for maintaining its own property, Key said.

Tim Johnson, a former Smithfield parks and recreation director who now helps manage the grant that sent $350,000 to the project, said he was excited to bring something like this to the area.

The grant received 64 applicants and awarded 17 of them a total of $4.1 million, Johnson said.

He said members of the grant committee were excited about the inclusion park.

“When our project got introduced, one of (the committee members) said, ‘We need more projects like this one.’ Then one of them said, ‘This one makes me smile,’ ” Johnson said.